‘Touched by an Angel’ has no set rhyme scheme, but is written in rhythmically-flowing free verse. What are noticeable in the poem are the multiple end rhymes, such as “delight” and “sight” in the second and fifth lines, or “see”, “be”, and “free” in the seventeenth, nineteenth, and twenty-first lines.
Throughout the poem, Angelou uses personification. She lends human qualities to the abstract noun “love”. She depicts love as a coming-of-age experience in the life of man. In the first stanza itself, she compares the universal human condition with that of an infant in the mother’s womb. Man, she says, lies curled in a foetal position in his “shell of loneliness” in the absence of love. Like a child, man always fears everything he encounters.
Angelou also says that human beings are “exiles from delight”. An “exile” is one who has been barred from his native country. Thus Angelou implies that the state of delight IS man’s native state. However, man is prevented from being happy before the arrival of love.
Angelou goes on to create an image of love, in its personified state, coming down from its “high holy temple” to reach humanity. This could have two meanings. The first is that love is something almost religious and sacred, and therefore it should be worshipped. The second meaning could be that love is hard to reach, its abode being at a high altitude, where one can only reach after climbing over rocks and jagged edges. That is, one can only experience love after going through various trials, tribulations, and hardships.
The word “liberate” in the last line of the first stanza once again evokes the image of a new-born baby, whose umbilical cord links it with the mother until it is ready to emerge from the womb and see the light of the world for the first time. Similarly, love cuts the symbolic cord that shackles man in his uncertainty, and frees him from it when he is ready to embrace the possibility of happiness in his life.
In the second stanza, love is figured as a bride walking down with the aisle with the long train of her gown trailing behind her. And in that train are carried memories of the life that man earlier lived. These memories are of pleasure, and of pain, but because of the advent of love, man can face both these kinds of memories with a stoic attitude, that is, without being overtly affected by them. In this stanza, too, the coming of love is seen as a coming-of-age experience, as marriage is in the life of a young woman, when she leaves her spinster life behind, and begins a new journey.
In the third stanza, Angelou returns to her original imagery of infancy. Now she concentrates on the image of weaning a child, that is, withdrawing its supply of the mother’s breast milk. Similarly, love weans man from his timidity and hesitancy, and gives him self-confidence. Angelou ends the poem by saying that through such sacrifices as the baby’s sacrifice of breast milk, love sets us free from our umbilical cord-like bonds, and we feel ready to face the world and find fulfilment in our lives.
Angelou’s poetry is often multi-layered. Keeping that in mind, it is possible to read deeper into ‘Touched by an Angel’. If Angelou’s use of the word “love” can be taken to mean universal brotherhood, and cooperation between diverse communities, the poem can be interpreted as a message to forget the long history of racial discrimination that the world has seen, and seek long-term methods of reconciliation instead. Nowhere does Angelou say this will be easy, but she feels that it will definitely be worth the effort.
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